Rand Fishkin on Scaling Up Business

Photo by: JD Hancock

This interview from Rand at Mixergy is quite fascinating, particularly when it ventures into one of the main things I’ve been thinking about: how much you should grow your business to a scale where you’re mostly managing a company instead of its product or service:

Rand: Well, for me at least, and I think for a lot of entrepreneurs who love the early stage, we’re the same kinds of people who love artisanal things in the world. Artisanal things in life. And that can be, you know, hey, this shirt was handmade in Scotland in this store that I stopped into, and I met the owner. And that’s the same woman who designed the pattern and sourced the fabric. God, that’s so cool.

Andrew: Yeah.

Rand: Right. Or the craft cocktail movement. It’s like, yeah, this drink was invented in this bar last year when this crazy guy came up with this thing and, by the way, he also won the world beer championship two years in a row. That artisanal style of creation is something that’s really beautiful. And it doesn’t scale tremendously well. Or let me put it this way, it’s really, really hard to make it scale well.

The point is: being a true CEO is not for everyone. For that entails running a large scale business and not just a product or service. And not every product/service is adequate to scale up to the point of even having one, despite so many people calling themselves CEO of this or that.

Still, well done Rand! You might not have enjoyed the CEO role so much, but you built a business to that level, and that’s something to be proud of.

The Opportunity of “Keywords Not Provided”

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Photo Credit: [phil h]
The world of Search Engine Optimization is being rocked again by Google. With most searches now being done securely over the HTTPS protocol, some valuable referral data is being lost by traffic analysts. Now there is no way to know whether a visit to a certain page, coming from Google, is due to a search about X or about Y or Z. We can easily know we have visits to certain pages, and we can estimate how our pages are ranking, but not what kind of searches our visitors were doing exactly.

There was a lot of commotion about this, but there’s no point in resenting Google nor even eagerly gathering keywords another way. The truth is that referral keywords are overrated because they lead to optimizing for search visibility instead of goal completion (user conversion). Why? Because you only get data for stuff that is ranking.

It’s time to look ahead and realize that the fixation on keyword data is actually restrictive and blocking the evolution of Search Engine Optimization. Professional SEOs need to adapt in order to remain in business, but not on a wild goose chase of keyword data, wasting valuable time trying to micro-manage Web Analytics. Instead, the same time could be applied on actually improving the site, its popularity and (consequently) its backlinks.

Then what should be done on the Analytics side?

  • Predictive research is of the utmost importance. Getting keyword research done thoroughly beforehand. Investigating all possible searches that users are doing and that aren’t too competitive to rank for.
  • When unsure about focusing your pages on keywords X or Y, we can always make small changes later and test their impact. Instead of working passively, based on what we think our Analytics software told us to do, we work actively and measure the traffic impact later.
  • Optionally use AdWords with broad queries and specific keywords, in order to test which specific keywords drive more goal completions. Some say we’re falling prey to the conspiracy theory that Google is driving us to spend more in AdWords, but the truth is… it’s a great method to choose from a few specific keyword variations that we identify in predictive research. It can be done much quicker and probably with less chance of skewing than using Analytics for this purpose.

But what really, really matters?

SEOs should already be broadening their perspective and strategies, even before today, and now more so. We should all view Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, general Online Marketing and Social Media Management as a holistic field that can be explored for the benefit of clients. The goal of any of these marketing sub-fields is to make your clients richer, more successful. Not simply to make them visible to search engines and people. For this, an online strategy should have multiple defined goals for the business it applies to, and performance indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of that strategy at some point.

Now, with keywords not provided, the experience of good SEOs becomes invaluable because they know what works… this at a time where it’s more difficult to prove what works. So, the future is in the hands of those who know what they’re doing and are confident in their abilities to drive targeted traffic. More than ever, reputation and experience will be key values, and so will be the ability to convince clients about the added value of our SEO.

Thoughts on the new Webmaster Guidelines

Google has just updated its Help Center with renewed Webmaster Guidelines. In an effort to increase awareness, a few more details are now given to webmasters.  A very welcome addition is the official positioning on the Rich Snippet manipulation, which gives an indication that this issue is being more closely followed by Google.

Besides a few clear examples of hidden text and unnatural linking techniques, the focus of the new communication was also on the need of original, high quality content in place (or in complement) of content that is:

  • auto-generated,
  • scraped,
  • or affiliate-based.

One aspect that is still a bit unclear in these guidelines is the one related to making “reasonable efforts to ensure that advertisements do not affect search engine rankings.” Since the Page Layout algorithm improvement has come into effect earlier this year, you could expect some mention of the use of advertisement on-page. Hence the rules of common sense remain as the only recommendation:

  • to not fill (especially the upper part of) your webpages with ads,
  • and to keep considerable organic content above the fold.

Search Masters Brasil 2012

This week, I’ve been featured in an interview for the upcoming Search Masters conference in Rio, which kickstarts August 9th! Here is the original Portuguese version, and here’s an automatic English translation.

At the conference, I’ll be giving advice in the context of Google Troubleshooting and Reconsideration, while meeting a few old and many new friends and colleagues from the exciting industry of Search Optimization and Marketing in Brazil. I’m also planning a quick escape to Iguaçú Falls and Florianópolis, from where I hope to bring to you lots of exciting photos 🙂

When partial penalty revocations are not enough

Today seroundtable.com featured John Mueller’s confirmation that Google Does Partial Penalty Revocations, bringing some attention to one of the hot topics in the SEO world.

While this may bring some hope to webmasters who might have abused only gray-area approaches of backlink acquisition, in many occasions it turns out to be impossible to clean up your act. If you’re knee-deep in bad backlinks, take it from me, you’re better off starting fresh. Don’t try to fool the reconsideration team, as you’re probably wasting time and getting a bad reputation. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Recreate your website with all previous content on a new domain (preferably with a slightly new layout, so that users understand it as the next version);
  2. Approach all the good linkers, asking them to update their links before the old content becomes unavailable;
  3. Inform your audience with a front-page announcement that the future design is available at the new address;
  4. Start posting exclusively on the new domain;
  5. Monitor your new domain for growth: you might not reach yet the same traffic, but once you see a positive trend…
  6. Shut down the old website! You don’t want to do 301 redirections unless you’re sure that the pages you’re redirecting are not responsible for the penalty (in that case, do get rid of the penalized pages)… and you don’t want to keep the old site up, confusing search engines with duplicate content sources. If you do, consider using a 302 redirection.
  7. Learn from your mistakes, and remember that failure is often a necessary step to success.

It takes courage to leave a website behind, but in most cases where the backlinks are too many and too varied to fix, this is your only viable option. Remember, you don’t want to be the webmaster that ended up with this:

“Within 5 days, all my new re-directed pages were indexed by Google and ranking on page 1 again. Then came the shocker…on day 7 after the 301 redirection. My new domain and all the internal pages were back to pages 5 and 6.”

What do you think? Have you ever had the courage to follow the suggested procedure? Did any other strategy have a positive long-term effect?